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On Email Gay Bashing, Or, ENDA’s Already Getting Ugly March 25, 2010

It wasn’t but a couple of days ago that we had a conversation about The Fear and the emails that are used to spread it, and I figured with that out of the way we had dealt with the topic, and that we’d move on to new things.

Well, we would be moving on, Gentle Reader, if it wasn’t for the fact that an email came in today that was so ugly, so disturbing, and so indicative of what we are about to see as the battle over the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) begins to heat up (ENDA being possibly the next “big contentious thing” that this Administration hopes to accomplish), that I had to interrupt my story schedule to bring it to your attention.

“Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”

–W.C. Fields

For those not yet aware, let’s do a bit of background: there have been a series of civil rights laws passed over the years, providing protections related to the right to vote, providing for equality in housing and employment based on race, or religion, or ethnicity, or gender, and providing protections for the disabled.

What is missing is a law protecting those who are gay or those who might view gender in a way that’s different than what the most fundamentalist church in town views as “normal” from discrimination in housing and employment; the idea is that ENDA (officially known as H.R. 3017, Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009) is intended to fill that gap.

The House Education and Labor Committee has held hearings on the bill, but that’s as far as it’s gone so far. Now that the pressure is easing to get health care reform through Congress, there are people who would like to advance ENDA from a bill to a law…and I’m one of ‘em.

So, naturally, when an email came into my inbox asking “Do You Support The Homosexual Agenda?” I thought to myself: “why, yes, I do”, and opened the darn thing.

As it turns out, the sender, “Public Advocate of the United States” (which, I assume, is not to be confused with The Advocate), is not a supporter of Teh Gay Agenda…but that’s not really a surprise, is it?

In fact, the group is against…well, pretty much everything, including:

“…The National Endowment of the Arts and the federal funding and endorsement of pornography and obscenity as legitimate forms of art;

The mainstream media’s promotion and glorification of drug abuse, teenage sex, gangs, atheism, homosexuality and other immoral behavior and beliefs;

The passage of hate crimes and thought control legislation that creates inequality in our state and federal legal systems…”

All of which they present with no apparent sense of the contradictions inherent in their own positions…which is also not really a surprise.

Anyway, according to the email…

“The Radical Homosexuals claim you and other pro-family Americans actually now support same-sex marriage, special job preferences for homosexuals and promotion of the homosexual lifestyle in schools…”

First off (and I had to do some research to confirm this), The Radical Homosexuals are not a band, which is too bad, because that would be one sweet name to put on a marquee.

Secondly, Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy, the country is split, almost 60/40, in favor of civil unions, this according to Pew…and when it comes to actual marriage, Pew counts it at 53% against, 39% for…which means The Radical Homosexuals are more correct in their assertions than Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy might like.

But let’s move on:

“…You see, the Radical Homosexuals are storming through Washington demanding passage of their agenda.

And with the passage of Thought Control last year, they say NOW is the time to push their perverse “life-style” on every man, women and child in America.

And they insist YOU actually support them.

The Homosexual Lobby played a major role in electing Obama and the majorities he enjoys in both houses of Congress.

I can only begin to imagine all the damage the Radical Homosexuals will do with their allies controlling the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House.

As the President of Public Advocate of the U.S., I’ve devoted twenty-seven years to battling the radical homosexuals in Washington.

Backed by Hollywood celebrities, the media and millions of your tax dollars, the Radical Homosexuals have many Congressmen quivering with fear — and they have a Radical Homosexual-friendly majority in control of Congress…”

(A quick word regarding emphasis: throughout this story, where emphasis occurs, it’s as it was presented in the original, except that for technical reasons I had to change underlined words to italics.)

Storming?
Thought Control?
A Quivering Majority of the Members of Congress?

And that’s only what he can begin to imagine:

“…Frankly if you really do support the radical Homosexual Agenda — or if you just no longer care enough to stand up for the family — insiders in Congress say the entire Homosexual Agenda could pass in a matter of months.

*** Special job rights for homosexuals and lesbians. Businesses may have to adopt hiring quotas to protect themselves from lawsuits. Every homosexual fired or not hired becomes a potential federal civil rights lawsuit.

Radical homosexuals will terrorize day care centers, hospitals, churches and private schools. Traditional moral values will be shattered by federal law.

*** Same-sex marriages and adoptions. Wedding-gown clad men smooching before some left-wing clergy or state official is just the beginning.

You’ll see men hand-in-hand skipping down to adoption centers to “pick out” a little boy for themselves.

*** Homosexual advocacy in schools. Your children or grandchildren will be taught homosexuality is moral, natural and good. High school children will learn perverted sex acts as part of “safe sex” education.

With condoms already handed out in many schools, Radical Homosexuals will have little trouble adopting today’s “if it feels good do it” sex-ed curriculum to their agenda.

And to add insult to injury, lobbyists for the Homosexual Agenda are paid off with your tax dollars!

That’s right, radical homosexual groups like the Gay-Lesbian Task Force and ACT-UP receive millions from the government.

Hundreds of millions of dollars flow from taxpayers to homosexual activists through funding for homosexual “art,” so-called AIDS-awareness programs, and research grants…”

OK…so…at this point I need you to sit back down and take a deep breath, because it’s about to get a whole lot weirder.

I do not want you drinking anything while you read this next passage.
I don’t want you eating, either.

There are a few of you who may…oh, how should I put this…it’s possible that you may have some doubts about your own mental health.

To paraphrase comedian Lewis Black: if you go to an International House of Pancakes and you have “body issues”, you will inevitably feel better about yourself after the visit; this because there is always someone there who is at least 400 pounds heavier than you will ever weigh, ever, in your entire life.

The next portion of this email represents the International House of Mental Health, and there’s someone there 400 times crazier than you…and it’s this guy:

“…One stormy night I drove to a mailshop hidden deep in a nearly deserted stand of warehouses. I’d heard something was up and wanted to see for myself.

As I rounded the final turn my eyes nearly popped. Tractor-trailers pulled up to loading docks, cars and vans everywhere and long-haired, earring-pierced men scurrying around running forklifts, inserters and huge printing presses.

Trembling with worry I went inside. It was worse than I ever imagined.

Row after row of boxes bulging with pro-homosexual petitions lined the walls, stacked to the ceiling.

My mind reeled as I realized hundreds, maybe thousands, more boxes were already loaded on the tractor-trailers. And still more petitions were flying off the press.

Suddenly a dark-haired man screeched, “Delgaudio what are you doing here?” Dozens of men began moving toward me. I’d been recognized.

As I retreated to my car, the man chortled, “This time Delgaudio we can’t lose.”

Driving away, my eyes filled with tears as I realized he might be right. This time the Radical Homosexuals could win.

You see, even though homosexuals are just 1% of the population, if every one sent a petition to Congress it would generate a tidal wave of two or three million petitions or more.

Hundreds of thousands of pro-homosexual petitions will soon flood Congress , and my friends in Congress tell me there’s virtually nothing on Capitol Hill from the tens of millions of Americans like you who oppose the radical Homosexual Agenda and the Gay Bill of Special Rights.

I made up my mind that night to write to you and as many other patriotic Americans as possible. To stop the Radical Homosexuals and protect traditional marriage there must be an immediate outpouring from folks like you….”

I need to interrupt for a quick second to ask a question: is it just me, or is the only difference between that story and a bad gay porn film that there’s nobody knocking at the door saying: “here’s the pizza…and here’s the pepperoni”?

“…Homosexual activists mock me in the halls of Congress. They say it’s too late because Americans like you don’t care enough to help, especially with the Democrats in control of Congress and the White House…”

Hey, Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy: just because someone mocks you in the hall, it doesn’t mean they’re some kind of homosexual activist.

They could be mental health activists, for example, or activists promoting better education…and, of course, it’s always possible they’re from the Netherlands.

Now not all the news here is bad:

“…If you won’t help, I’m afraid there is little more I can do.

But the fact is, even if every person responds it won’t be enough to counter all the radical homosexuals are doing.

And not everyone will respond. Some are cowed by how pro-family Americans are portrayed on TV. Others will count on someone else to fight the fight and carry the load. I don’t believe you are like that…”

Just a real quick little bit of advice for the author of this piece, if I may be so bold.

Context matters, as those who used the word “Teabag” just a bit too freely discovered last spring, much to our delight, and when you’re busy stirring up The Fear Of The Radical Homosexual, I would be careful how I throw around terms like “carry the load”.

Next time, Angry Conservative Fundraising Guy, consider hiring a panel of 13-year-old boys who like Beavis and Butthead DVDs for a focus group before you hit the “Send” button and this sort of thing might not happen again.

The rest of this is a great big fundraiser which includes a series of links to what the sender calls a “Morality Survey”, but what I call either a push-poll or a handy one-page checklist of the arguments you can expect to hear over the next few months.

Now I think we’ve all seen enough of this for today, but here’s what I want you to take away from our conversation:

ENDA will be used as a tool to continue spreading hate in the run-up to this year’s elections…and really, really, really creepy people will be trying to scare you using really, really, really turgid (and I do mean turgid) prose.

The imaging will be ugly, with the fears of pedophilia and crossdressing and things being rammed down throats likely to all play starring roles in the Conserva-theater that’s soon to come.

I also expect to see more “outings”, á la Karl Rove’s usual practice—even against other Republicans, which has already apparently happened in this cycle, in the Illinois Senate Republican primary.

“…Stop imagining, unravel the truth and ask: “just who is it happening to?”

Everything that the passenger do, the driver experience, too

So if humanity is one then we all get burned when it’s hell that we’re traveling through…”

–From the song The Travelers, by Brother Ali.

There is no reason for us to blow this one.

The Conservative craziness that’s coming may become so extreme that even the Republicans no longer want any part of these people, but I wouldn’t count on it.

What I would count on is that this is the kind of fight we want to be having—as long as we’re out there having it.

Talk to your friends, talk to those people in line at the espresso stand, and (here’s one for the Captain in all of us), maybe even talk to the attractive individual working out next to you at the gym. Make them understand what this election is really going to be about, how desperate the other side is, and why we can’t afford to let them win.

The Radical HomoFearoPhobians are already hard at work, so get out there and do the same.

Unless, of course, you’d prefer another summer of really, really, awful Teabagging.

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On Gay History, Or, This Is Not A Stonewall Story July 9, 2009

Pride Month has come and gone, Gentle Reader, with no comment from this desk.

It’s not that I’m in some way insensitive to the subject; instead it’s more of a desire, once again, to stay off the beaten path.

And in that spirit, I do indeed have a story of Gay History…but it’s not from the Summer of ’69…instead, this story was already well underway before the Summer of ’29.

So put on something très chic and let’s head on over to Harlem…at the time of the Renaissance…because it’s time to meet Gladys Bentley.

As so often happens, I had no idea I would be writing a Gay History (HerStory?) story—and the funny thing is, it’s all Groucho Marx’s fault.

For those not aware, Groucho starred in what is now an ancient television game show, “You Bet Your Life”. The basic concept was that the guest would come on and demonstrate a talent, do a little comedic banter with Groucho, and then answer questions for money.

There is a newly released DVD set of episodes from the show, and I was watching the very first episode of the set…and along comes this woman who introduces herself as Gladys Bentley. After a few words, she sits down at the portable piano that was provided, and much to my amazement she proceeds to pound out some of the most amazing boogie-woogie it has ever been my pleasure to watch.

Naturally, a Google search ensued…and that’s when it got interesting.

You see, Gladys Bentley, in 1920s and 1930s Harlem, was the most famous Drag King of her time (yes, Virginia, there are Drag Kings, just as there are Drag Queens)…and all of a sudden, it was time to write a “couple days after Pride Month” story.

The history of early 20th Century Harlem is associated with two notable trends: black migration caused by the gradual desegregation of the neighborhood and the introduction of Prohibition and the speakeasy culture.

“…a costume ball can be a very tame thing, but when all the exquisitely gowned women on the floor are men and a number of the smartest men are women, ah then, we have something over which to thrill and grow round-eyed.”

–“Lady Nicotine”, Geraldyn Dismond Major, describing the “Faggot’s Ball” in her “Between Puffs” column for The Inter-State Tattler, February 1929

For those unaware, 1920s Harlem was the home of an active gay community, and it was apparently the perfect place for a black woman who once wrote that “even as I was toddling, I never wanted a man to touch me….”. By the end of the decade she had worked herself up from playing rent parties to stardom on “Jungle Alley”: appearing at The Cotton Club and eventually becoming the “headliner-in-residence” at the predominantly lesbian The Clam House (the entendre being entirely intentional).

It is reported that there was a surprising amount of integration on Jungle Alley—of multiple kinds—which helped Gladys Bentley soon became the darling of the white, black, gay, and straight social sets. (Langston Hughes even modeled a character in the play Little Ham after her.) Her ability to write and perform some of the bawdiest lyrics ever while “working the room”—especially the ladies–kept The Clam House packed…and it set her up for an even bigger gig to come.

Connie’s Inn, another famous speakeasy, had closed, and in its place was the Ubangi Club. To “kick things up a notch”, as it were, the new management not only hired Bentley, but provided for her an entire chorus line of “pansies”; the combination of the effeminate male chorus line and the female butch headliner forming a sort of gender-bending fugue that that came together in elaborate stage shows produced by the likes of Leonard Harper.

Eventually she moved over to the Mad House, performing under the stage name of Barbara “Bobbie” Minton…which, before long, caused the club to change its own “stage” name to Barbara’s Exclusive Club in her honor.

She recorded music as well, first in the late 1920s, for OKEH records; some of that music can be heard today by visiting just the right websites.

Eventually…Miss Bentley became a Mrs….more than once.

“A friend, visiting her, pointed inquiringly at two pictures on Miss Bentley’s dresser…

“Who are they?” the visitor inquired innocently.

“Oh” Miss Bentley replied “That’s my husband (pointing to the male) and that’s my wife.”

–From The Third Sex By Albert Duckett, in “The Chicago Defender”, March 2, 1957

Bentley’s first marriage—to a white woman, in Atlantic City—was reportedly covered in the society pages of the New York papers. Bentley also reports that there were two marriages to men, in later years, both ending in divorce—a topic to which we will return later.

All of this came to an end as the Depression deepened, and in 1937, less than five years after she had moved into a Park Avenue apartment she moved out to Los Angeles to live with her mother.

World War II revived the gay scene on the West Coast, and Bentley was able to find work at bars such as the San Bernardino Club and Joaquin’s El Rancho in Los Angeles and Mona’s Club 440 in San Francisco (“Where Girls Will Be Boys!”), along with other artists such as Miss Jimmy Reynard and Miss Beverly Shaw.

(Fun Fact: Some sort of club has occupied the same location as the old Mona’s right up to this very day, and if you find yourself in San Francisco you can visit Apartment 24, the current occupant of the spot (the website tells us to “think of classic age rock star David Bowie’s over the top apartment in the 1960s….”).)

In 1945 World War II came to an end…and not long after that, so did the “gender-bending” phase of Gladys Bentley’s life.

“I thought that nought is worth a thought,
And I’m a fool for thinking.”

–From The Chant of the Brazen Head, Winthrop Mackworth Praed

Before we proceed further, a few words about the public ”presentation” of homosexuality.

If you read media accounts from the 1930s—and later–that deal with gay issues, one thing that will become quickly apparent is the way the gay lifestyle is presented as an aberrant condition. You will likely also note the admonitions that a gay person must be suffering from internal torment, and unable to live a happy life.

Here are a couple quick examples:

“…Dr. Berger reasons that 99 out of any 100 Lesbians are successful in hiding their strange sex habit…

…Since it is easier for a woman to hide the fact that she is sexually cold than for a man to hide the fact that he cannot satisfactorily perform functions expected of a normal husband…

–From The Third Sex by Albert Duckett, in “The Chicago Defender”, March 2, 1957

“…still, in my secret heart I was weeping and wounded because I was traveling the wrong road to real love and true happiness. I could not find them in the cruel, unusual world of my strange private life.”

That second example is from an August 1952 “Ebony” Magazine article written by Gladys Bentley, I Am A Woman Again.

In the article Bentley renounces her entire life…and in doing so she paints a portrait of a woman who would have been a whole lot happier if she would have had the freedom to just be herself.

She describes a childhood that was spent mostly alone, parents who tried to “fix” her gender confusion by making her dress in something other than her brothers’ suits…an attraction to her teacher that she did not understand…and what she herself portrays as “extreme social maladjustment”.

Even then there was a feeling that you could cure “Teh Gay”, and as a child Bentley’s mother “began to take me from doctor to doctor…”; an effort to which Bentley herself would eventually return.

Fast forward again to post-1945…and the time she married a sailor.

“Don” was a friend-of-a-friend from San Diego via San Francisco who was told to introduce himself to Ms. Bentley if he should happen to find himself in Los Angeles…which eventually happened.

Despite the fact that “I hated sailors at the time” because of their aggressive nature they began to spend a great deal of time together—so much so that she began to introduce him as her brother.

“One day, I told Don all about my life. I admitted to him that he had me very confused because I couldn’t understand what I was doing letting a normal man pay attention to me.”

In the midst of tremendous anxiety about the future of their relationship (what with Don being the accepting type and all, they had decided to marry), she decided to visit another physician, to whom she announced the news of her impending marriage.

““That’s just what I wanted to hear” the doctor told me. “Now I can tell you what I’ve known for a long time. Your sex organs are infantile. They haven’t progressed past the stage of those of a fourteen-year-old-child.””

The solution? Injections of female hormones, three times weekly.

(There are those, notably Eric Garber, who question this account.)

“The treatment was expensive but it was worth every penny it cost.”

Fast forward to two lines later in the story:

“Even though our marriage did not last…”

Eventually Bentley began to study religion seriously, and she was in the process of becoming an ordained minister at the time of her 1958 appearance on the episode of “You Bet Your Life” that was the genesis for this story in the first place.

(Another Fun Fact: An 11-year-old Candice Bergen appears as a contestant in the second half of that same episode.)

In one way, Gladys Bentley’s story came to an untimely end just two years later, in 1960, when she died from influenza…but in another, more profound way, the story remains unresolved to this day.

It is, after all, still impossible for most same-sex couples to marry—and the Federal Government has yet to acknowledge the legal marriages that have occurred.

And those who do choose to carve out a different gender rôle for themselves, as well as those who are merely “committing the crime” of being gay are still ostracized by many in the larger society, even to the point that “God Hates Fags” has become the rallying cry for a weird and twisted church.

That said, the story is moving in the right direction…Prop 8 notwithstanding…with several states now granting to same-sex couples the right to marry—and the LBGT community gaining more and more political power all the time (can you say gAyTM?).

The remainder of the Obama Administration promises to be an exercise in…well, we’re not sure: will the Administration live up to the Candidate’s promises—or will the LBGT community find itself feeling the same way vis à vis the Democrats as the “teabag” community (not that one…the other one…) feels about the Republicans: taken for granted while at the same time lacking better options.

So how’s that for a “not Pride Month” story?

History that stretches back more than 40 years before Stonewall…great music…a bawdy personal life…repression, regret, and recriminations…and in the end, an Administration that is having to face up to the demands of those who seek more equal treatment.

And all of that…because of Groucho Marx.

WARNING—Self-Promotion ahead: I am competing for a Netroots Nation Scholarship, and I was not selected in either the first or second rounds. There is one more chance…and while I’m not inclined to use the “hard sell”…I guess I will today.

If you like what you’re seeing here, and you’d like to help me make these stories even better, swing by the Democracy for America site (even if you have before…) and express your support.

All of us here thank you for your kind attention, and we now return you to your regular programming (which, in keeping with the “hard sell”, is rated PG, instead of the usual G).

 

On Tradition, Or, Same-Sex Marriage, Seen Through A Telescope April 10, 2009

Dangerous Things are happening in America these days, we are told, and the once-innocent citizens of Iowa and Vermont have already been exposed to the hazard…and now it looks as though the contagion might spread to States across New England.

But lucky for us, our friends on the Right are here again to save to save us from…(insert horror film music here)…

…The Gay.

The Gay, it turns out, want the opportunity to marry.

Among other complaints, our friends on the Right feel this will destroy religious tradition, which will ultimately destroy first Christianity, then the Nation. Therefore, religious tradition must be protected at all costs.

Well as it turns out, there are some people from our past who know a few things about religious traditions and how they distort reality—and today, we’ll examine the lessons they have to teach us.

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

“The King James Bible”, Ecclesiastes 1:5

“…I wish, my dear Kepler, that we could have a good laugh together at the extraordinary stupidity of the mob. What do you think of the foremost philosophers of this University? In spite of my oft-repeated efforts and invitations, they have refused, with the obstinacy of a glutted adder, to look at the planets or Moon or my telescope.”

Through which the satellites of Jupiter were visible, Galileo Galilei

“The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures.”

–From the Catholic Church’s indictment of Galileo Galilei, 1633

So you get up every day and look up at the sky, and it’s obvious that the sun starts out over here…and at the end of the day it ends up over there.

Aristotle and Ptolemy figured it all out: each planet was placed on its own “sphere”, the earth in the center, and everything rotating around it; each planet (and the sun) inside the other, with the stars on the outside, in a Celestial Sphere”…all of this resembling Russian “Matryoshka” dolls.

And it’s no surprise that this interpretation of the motion of planets and the sun became not just “common sense”, but the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, it was in the Bible, it was something you could see every day, and as the Greeks would have told you, it was logically “beautiful”—and who could want better proof than that?

To make a long story short, a Polish-born Church Canon named Nicolas Copernicus did. In 1543, near the end of his life, he released the book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (“On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”), which suggested that all the planets, including the Earth, actually orbit the Sun.

It took another 40 years before someone would challenge Dogma on this point in a “threatening” way, but by 1584 Giordano Bruno’s The Ash Wednesday Supper was considered challenging enough to earn him the Heretic’s Fork…just before he was burned alive on the order of the Church.

By 1616 Galileo Galilei was being warned by the Catholic Church to stop talking about what he was seeing through his telescopes; a moon that was not a perfect sphere and the viewing of the phases of Venus being just two of his problematic observations.

Of course, the real reason all this was so problematic was because there were those in the Church who felt that the Word of God was to be interpreted literally…which meant that anyone who challenged either the text of the Bible or Church Dogma in any way had to be both factually wrong…and an enemy of the Faith.

Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

–Groucho Marx, from the movie Duck Soup

Despite the warning, Galileo wouldn’t let it go. He kept observing, and he kept writing, which led to his attempt, in 1632, to obtain a license to publish the Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems…which led to his being hauled before the Inquisition…which led, in June of 1633, to him forswearing any of his previous beliefs, presumably to avoid the Heretic’s Fork himself.

The Church was able to hold all this together for another half-century—but Isaac Newton essentially “won the argument” with the publication of his three editions of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica from 1686 to 1742.

Many of you will recall that the Catholic Church was in fact destroyed by this chink in the armor of Biblical literalism, with the Church actually ceasing operations in 1802.

Obviously, I’m kidding—but the fact that nothing terrible happened hasn’t stopped any number of religious leaders in this country (and their followers, for that matter) from claiming that allowing same-sex marriages will have the same impact on faith in America today.

Which brings us to the moral of today’s story: the next time someone tells you that same-sex marriages will destroy religious traditions…that the world as we know it will come to a horrible end…and that anyone with any “common sense” can see that for themselves…tell ‘em to go get a telescope and get over it.